COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It’s caused by a virus called coronavirus.
Coronavirus is a mild, upper respiratory tract infection, with or without fever, and a cough that can potentially develop into pneumonia, causing breathing difficulties. As with influenza, coronavirus can be more dangerous for vulnerable people such as the elderly and those with cancer, diabetes, chronic lung disease and other conditions that result in a weakened immune system. The virus is most often spread via close (up to six feet) person-to-person contact. Just like influenza and other respiratory illnesses, respiratory droplets from infected coughs or sneezes can land in the mouths or noses of those nearby or be inhaled into their lungs. However, it’s currently unclear if a person can get 2019-nCoV by handling a virus-contaminated surface or object and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes. Typically, with most respiratory viruses, people are thought to be at their most contagious when they appear ill with symptoms.
What’s the risk of coronavirus in the UK?
The UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk to the public from low to moderate.
Health professionals are working to contact anyone who has been in close contact with people who have coronavirus.
What’s the risk of coronavirus for those who have travelled recently?
There are some countries and areas where there’s a higher chance of coming into contact with someone with coronavirus.
What you should do
According to the latest information, the virus is most likely to occur in people who have recently returned from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan or Thailand. For everyone’s safety and wellbeing, we strongly urge that family members or friends who have recently travelled to these places, or have been in contact with people who have travelled to/from such countries, do not visit their loved one in the homes until the incubation period has passed. This is currently 14 days, but this advice may change.
Symptoms of coronavirus
The symptoms of coronavirus are:
- a cough
- a high temperature
- shortness of breath
But these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and flu.
How coronavirus is spread
Because it’s a new illness, we do not know exactly how coronavirus spreads from person to person. Similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. It’s very unlikely it can be spread through things like packages or food.
Do I need to avoid public places?
Most people can continue to go to work, school and other public places. You only need to stay away from public places (self-isolate) if advised to by the 111 online coronavirus service or a medical professional.
How to avoid catching or spreading coronavirus
Check if you need medical help
NHS 111 has an online coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and advise you what to do.
Use this service if:
- you think you might have coronavirus
- in the last 14 days you’ve been to a country or area with a high risk of coronavirus
- you’ve been in close contact with someone with coronavirus
Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Call 111 if you need to speak to someone.
How to self-isolate if you’re asked to
If there’s a chance you could have coronavirus, you may be asked to stay away from other people (self-isolate).
This means you should:
- stay at home
- not go to work, school or public places
- not use public transport or taxis
- ask friends, family members or delivery services to do errands for you
- try to avoid visitors to your home – it’s OK for friends, family or delivery drivers to drop off food
You may need to do this for up to 14 days to help reduce the possible spread of infection.
Read more coronavirus self-isolation advice.
Treatment for coronavirus
There is currently no specific treatment for coronavirus.
Antibiotics do not help, as they do not work against viruses.
Treatment aims to relieve the symptoms while your body fights the illness.
You’ll need to stay in isolation away from other people until you’ve recovered.